In a year of firsts for 16-year-old Junior Tennis Champions Center player Francis Tiafoe, Monday provided arguably the biggest so far: an ATP main draw debut in prime time on center court at his hometown Citi Open, to be broadcast live on national television.
With young guns Noah Rubin and Alexander Zverev recently taking the tennis headlines from more established stars, it was Tiafoe’s turn to take the tennis world’s attention. As usual, Twitter was the go-to source for everyone’s opinions.
First, there was the hype:
If you're into saying you saw so-and-so play a small club before getting famous, Francis Tiafoe is making tour debut on Tennis Channel.
— Jason Gay (@jasongay) July 29, 2014
Francis Tiafoe, 16, will make his ATP Tour main draw debut tonight at the Citi Open http://t.co/Ix09wgNS3D pic.twitter.com/CIWU358cRg
— Post Sports (@PostSports) July 28, 2014
Very excited to have @FTiafoe make his @ATPWorldTour debut live on @TennisChannel tomorrow at @CitiOpen!
— Brett Haber (@BrettHaber) July 27, 2014
Then, the match. Tiafoe’s opponent was 24-year-old Russian Evgeny Donskoy, ranked No. 111 in the world. Tiafoe got off to a quick start, holding his first service game at love, with a booming ace to open the match.
Watching top ranked junior Francis Tiafoe debut at the #CitiOpen – exciting stuff, the next great American tennis player?
— Andrew Chesser (@ABCHESSER) July 29, 2014
Francis Tiafoe, under the DC lights for the first time. @ William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center http://t.co/buqVBLP2kc
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) July 29, 2014
From there, though, Tiafoe looked a little uncertain, with Donskoy breaking his serve and winning the first set 6-4.
Ouch! Sloppy game by Tiafoe gives Donskoy a break for 2-1. 16-year-old Francis was overhitting. @CitiOpen
— Sonny Dearth is ISO of a building (@sdearth) July 29, 2014
Bit of a nervy start for 16 year old Francis Tiafoe but started to settle down now vs Donskoy
— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) July 29, 2014
1st set Donskoy 6/4 .. Tiafoe is playing well though
— Mahmoud Nashaat (@MNash2at) July 29, 2014
After exchanging breaks in the second set, Donskoy broke again and held out for a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Tiafoe breaks to even up the second set 2-2. Some great shots from the 16-year-old. It's points like these that make him so fun to watch.
— Kelyn Soong (@KelynSoong) July 29, 2014
Evgeny Donskoy beats Francis Tiafoe 6-4 6-4 in the 1st round at Washington DC #ATP #tennis
— Live Tennis Results (@tennis_result) July 29, 2014
Despite the loss, praise came from all corners of the tennis world.
Francis Tiafoe with a solid ATP debut. The 16yo loses 64 64 to Evgeny Donskoy in the first round of the Citi Open. Showed his promise. #atp
— SI Tennis (@SI_Tennis) July 29, 2014
Bad news for Tiafoe: he loses first match, 6-4, 6-4 to Donskoy. Good news: lots of encouraging signs.
— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) July 29, 2014
Great wins for Townsend and Rogers, good debut for Tiafoe. Ok now time for Keys and Black and Coco out west#weareacomin
— Patrick McEnroe (@PatrickMcEnroe) July 29, 2014
And everyone agreed Tiafoe is a natural for the big stage.
Video: At just 16, @FTiafoe is a showman. How to whip up a crowd – the kid's a natural. http://t.co/vssJ51mgSM
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) July 29, 2014
It's great to see the overwhelming support for @FTiafoe in his debut match @CitiOpen! Let's go Francis! @TheJTCC #teamjtcc
— USTA Mid-Atlantic (@USTAMidAtlantic) July 29, 2014
Fun to watch Francis Tiafoe's pro debut at @CitiOpen tonight on Tennis Channel. What the network should be all about.
— Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) July 29, 2014
#CitiOpen Francis tiafoe is the real deal, for a 16yo he is entertaining, and composed. #tennis #USOpenSeries
— Grandslamtennistips (@Grandslamtenni1) July 29, 2014
The morning after, Tiafoe was quoted in The Washington Post, invited on to the Tennis Channel set, and even featured as a shot of the day by the ATP.
Francis Tiafoe: “Walking on the court, the crowd started going crazy. I almost cried.” http://t.co/oa4c9qaen2
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) July 29, 2014
Opening up @TennisChannel coverage @CitiOpen w/ @BrettHaber, @paul_annacone, and @FTiafoe @USOpenSeries #citiopen pic.twitter.com/uQIKdJ3lYc
— Justin Gimelstob (@justingimelstob) July 29, 2014
Watch @FTiafoe, 16, take #HotShot honours Monday at @CitiOpen. http://t.co/taXTkG1zhq #atp #tennis pic.twitter.com/idBTBoyobb
— ATP Tour (@atptour) July 29, 2014
All in all, a great debut for the young junior champion. A long road ahead, but certainly not the last time Twitter will obsess over this great American talent.